Study Refutes Myth that Women are Opting Out
Weakness in labor market - not motherhood - linked to lower participation rates
Immediate Release: November
Erskine, 202-293-5380 x115
DC: Declining labor force participation rates in women are due to
weakness in the labor market -- not mothers "opting out" because of
their children -- according to a new study by the Center for Economic
and Policy Research. The report, "Are Women Opting Out? Debunking the
Myth," by economist Heather Boushey, refutes the common belief that
women are increasingly quitting their jobs when they have children.
"Much has been made of the fact that the labor force participation rate
of mothers has fallen in recent years, but that's not about motherhood
or decisions to stay at home. It's about the lackluster labor
market,"said Heather Boushey, author of the study.
The impact of having children in the home on women's labor force
participation (the "child penalty") actually fell last year compared to
The report, which analyzed Current Population Survey's Outgoing
Rotation Group data (a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey), found that
the child penalty on labor force participation for prime-age women,
aged 25 to 44, was 20.7 percentage points in 1984 and has fallen
consistently over the last two decades, down to 8.2 percentage points
in 2004. This means that in 2004, labor force participation by women in
this age group with children at home averaged 8.2 percentage points
less than for women without children at home.
The early 2000s recession led to sustained job losses for all women -
those with and without children at home - and the labor market only
just returned to its 2000 employment level in January 2005, nearly four
years after the recession began. During this recession, women
experienced their largest employment losses in decades and once this is
controlled for, the presence of children at home plays a smaller role
in women's labor force participation than it did in previous years,
going back to 1984.
The argument has been made that highly-educated, older mothers are
increasingly opting out. However, between 2000 and 2004, 30-something
mothers with advanced degrees saw no statistically significant change
in the effect of children on their labor force participation rates. The
child penalty is smallest for this group of mothers and they are more
likely to work than other mothers.
To read report summary, click here.
The Center for Economic
and Policy Research is an independent, nonpartisan think tank that was
established to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and
social issues that affect people's lives.